Antenna Gone, `Harvey' Revisited

THAT was a real three-day northeast blow we had back in November. The traditional warning that winter approaches Maine. Lobster catchers said it gusted to 60 knots. It blew the top off my spruce mast that supports the television antenna, and down everything came kerplunk. A spruce mast isn't hard to replace in these parts, but it takes time. We don't have cable and we don't have a dish, so we depend on a high aerial and a rotor to fetch Bangor stations. Not that we watch TV much, but as the goodwife says, ``It's there even if we don't.'' Now it wasn't there.

``We can look at a tape,'' she said.

The second, or maybe the third, evening she looked in the tape drawer and said, ``Oh-h-h! Here's `Harvey.' Let's look at `Harvey'!'' We looked at ``Harvey'' and wandered back into the shadows of time to relive a good memory. On one of our seldom visits to New York City we saw ``Harvey'' at (as I remember) the 48th Street Theatre - not with Jimmie Stewart of the film and our tape, but with Frank Fay as Elwood P. Dowd. (Let me give you my card!) The constant in both versions is Josephine Hull, The Great.

It ways years ago. I was called as a witness in a lawsuit, and we made a jaunt of it. In those merry days we could board the State of Maine Express at Portland in the early evening and be jolted more-or-less asleep into Grand Central Terminal in time for breakfast. After a day of business or whatever in New York, we could board the return version in the evening and be back in Portland the next morning. It saved a hotel bill and was cheaper. And one full day in New York is all a thoughtful person should embrace. But on this occasion the judge was unkind and granted a continuance, so we had to stay over. What to do with an unexpected evening?

``I'd like to go and see `Harvey'!'' she said. ``Harvey'' was sold out a year and more in advance, as we soon found out. The ticket agents laughed, ha-ha! We called the drama editor at the Times, and also The Monitor bureau. The ha's were at least in a warmer negative. Sorry! So after an over-priced supper in the Village she said, ``All right - if I can't get in to see `Harvey,' at least I can stand in the lobby and watch people!'' We found the lobby busy, happy people pressing in for a rewarding evening, and the man in the ticket booth was doing no more than putting in his time. Everybody had tickets in hand, and he had none to sell. He was yawning as my lady approached. Before she said anything, he said, ``No!''

There is nothing so definitive as a New York No, but it needn't be the last word. She said, ``You don't understand.''

He lifted his head. ``You see,'' she went on, ``we're down from Maine, and if we don't see `Harvey' tonight we never will see it.'' He nodded and pointed at the far lobby wall. ``Stand over there,'' he said.

It worked. I've always said there is something magic about the word Maine. Or, about my wife. We stood aside and watched some more people go into the theater, and in a few minutes the man in the booth lifted a finger and beckoned. ``Always some turn-ins,'' he said and made change. My wife passed in all the money she had and he gave some back to her, but she didn't ask ``How much?'' We never knew the price. ``Thank you,'' he said.

``No, thank you!'' I made reply in amiable gratitude. We had two seats in the fourth row, center theater.

``Harvey'' is one of our great memories. The play over, Frank Fay did his curtain call. With his cast standing idly across the stage he sat on a stepladder and reminisced about his stage career. This went on and on, while the cast tried to look as if nobody had heard one line of this before. The curtain call was, in its own way, as entertaining as the play. And, I must add, my wife has always been a laugher. Long ago I found it unwise to take her to see the Marx Brothers, who would throw her into hilarious hysterics that disturbed everybody and disgraced me. Frank Fay got her going. Every so often he'd pause in his monologue to peer over the footlights to see what was amiss in the fourth row. I tried to get her to stand and take a bow.

So we remembered all this as we sat at home and watched ``Harvey'' again. Jimmie Stewart did just fine, and Josephine Hull was superb. Good to remember New York.

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